So you’ve created a budget. (Woohoo!) You’ve written everything out and you've planned your next financial month. Things are going along pretty well for a few weeks…and then: BAM!
Cue: car problem, bad day at work, water heater issue, emergency trip to the vet…
Suddenly, you’re off the rails. You’ve fallen off the budget wagon and it seems daunting to get back on, right?
Well, pull on your boots, cowgirl, because it’s time to harness up and get back on that budget horse/wagon/other-western-metaphor! Handling these biggest budgeting challenges is part of the process. With a little troubleshooting, you can TOTALLY succeed.
Getting a handle on your finances can be tricky. Maybe you’re a saver and your spouse is a more of a spender. (Been there!) Maybe life just happens and you don’t have a backup plan or an emergency fund to save you when unplanned situations arise. Whatever it is, I’m going to help you find ways you can plan ahead so an emergency, a surprise, or one of these other biggest budgeting challenges doesn’t derail your budgeting goals.
First, we need to identify the most common biggest budgeting challenges, then I'll give you a plan of attack to handle each one. You’ll be prepared when something comes along out of the blue (like your dog swallows a sock) and you have to scramble to come up with a solution. You’ll also learn how to handle unavoidable expenditures (like family parties and get-togethers) so they don’t break the bank.
I have to say though, when it comes to your budget, one of the biggest budgeting challenges is simply keeping yourself motivated. It’s easy to find reasons to blow your budget.There will always be concert tickets and restaurant meals tempting you to spend the money “just this once.” There will always be opportunities to go out.
Life is too short to miss out on fun and spending time with your family. You don’t have to swear off all fun or promise yourself you'll never go out to eat again. Not only is that not realistic, but it’s a sure way to set yourself up for failure. Let’s face it: we all need to do fun things. The key is to plan ahead and include the fun things IN your budget so when they come along you have wiggle room.
I want you to get your budget out and take a look at it. If you’ve just started or if you need help, you download my 90 Day Budget for Beginners Boot Camp. This budget boot camp will get you used to creating and sticking to a budget and help you build on a solid foundation.
Once you have your budget, it’s time to watch out for these biggest budgeting challenges, so you know how to handle them, move forward, and stay on track!
Challenge 1: Getting Everyone On Board
Guess what? I’m a saver. To a fault, in fact. I am just naturally thrifty. I have a built-in mentality that if we don’t have the money, we don’t need the item. My dear husband (on the other hand) doesn’t quite have the same mindset. In fact, when we first got together, it took a while for us to get on the same page, budget-wise.
Fortunately, we talked about things a lot. We listened to each other and tried to empathize to see where the other person was coming from. We learned to compromise. I learned to not be quite so rigid about some things and he learned to be a little more conservative.
Somewhere in that talk and compromise, we reached the conclusion that we BOTH wanted certain things for our future. In our case, we wanted to be able to afford having me stay at home with the kids. We had other dreams, too. We set goals together and we started to plan out steps to get us there.
Once we got on the same future-thinking-big-picture page, my spender became a saver! Were we perfect? No, of course not! But even with a few bumps along the way, I have to say, it was much easier once we discussed it and we were both on board.
So talk about it! ALL of it! Talk about your goals for your mutual future and the future of your family. If you can envision it together, you can start taking the steps required to reach your financial goals.
Feeling stuck? Not even getting close to the point of compromise? Well, if talking it out doesn’t work and you’re at your wit's end and you don’t know what to do: try bribery. Offer your spouse something they really want (an Xbox, concert tickets, a weekend away) IF (and ONLY IF) they'll go through the steps of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University with you. I guarantee you, even if you spend $300-$500 to get them on board, once you go through the steps together, they’ll be all-in. It'll be the best money you ever spent!
Challenge 2: Worrying About Disappointing Others
As moms and wives (and friends and daughters), it can be hard to say no. In fact, you might feel really guilty about it, like you're letting loved ones down and disappointing them when you say you just can't. Like, “No, we can't join the bar league softball team,” or “No, we can’t afford to go out to dinner with you this week.” And many women feel like their kids are going to be unhappy if they can’t have everything their friends have.
Listen up: Let. It Go. Realize that your friends and family DON'T WANT you to be in debt! They simply want to spend time with you! And the great news? You don't have to spend money to spend quality time together! Invite friends and family over for a game night, a potluck at home, or a grill out in the summer. Tell them your goals and ask for their support. Good friends will be on board. They may even be relieved! Chances are, they’re in a similar life place too, so they might love a chance to have some cheaper fun!
When it comes to the kids, realize that there are many things kids need…and most of them don’t cost as much as we think. Most of the things kids truly need to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and smart are intangible. They aren’t things we NEED to buy for them (like the latest Lego set or superhero action figure). What they really need to thrive is time and attention from Mom and Dad.
Instead of focusing on buying things, focus on spending time together (on the cheap!) as a family. Be dorky, be silly, and play with your kids. Ask them about their day and listen to them when they need an ear. You might be surprised: they’ll be JUST fine.
Challenge 3: Feeling Like You’re Giving Up on Fun
When you start to live on a budget, one of the biggest budgeting challenges is feeling like, “Welp, that’s it. No more fun for us!”
Guess what? The fun isn’t over! You can still have date night. You can still have fun with friends. You can still enjoy family time, throw parties, get in shape, and basically do all the things you do now. You just have to plan ahead and find tricky little ways to save while you do it!
A cheap-o date night option? Sounds totally weird, I know, but if you have a Capitol One Banking Cafe near you, it's actually a really fun place to go for date night! It’s basically a tech-friendly spot where you’re surrounded by like-minded people who are trying to learn more about products, services, and ways to save. Everyone is budget-minded because you’re all working toward the same goals!
When it comes to saving on experiences, make it all about the activity rather than the souvenirs. When you go somewhere (the waterpark, the fair, the zoo) make the most of the experience, but set a budget beforehand. Bring ONLY the cash you can afford to spend on the trip, take pictures, and go for having fun rather than trying to bring the fun home with you.
Make the most of seasonal activities, too. In the summer, get outdoors, play games, go to local sporting events, and take advantage of free fun in your neighborhood. In the fall and winter, enjoy the sights, flavors, and sounds of the season like haunted houses, trick-or-treat, apple picking, and pumpkin walks. Watch for ways to enjoy light displays at the holidays, caroling, and other free-but-fun activities. You can get into the spirit of any season without spending money! I promise, fun is still possible! (You might even find you enjoy yourself MORE because you’re seeking experiences over things!)
Challenge 4: Dreading Cooking at Home (When You’d Rather Go Out)
I get it. Going out to eat is fun. Not only that, but it’s EASY! Someone else does the cooking and brings your food TO you. There’s no planning. There’s no stress in the kitchen. There’s no chopping and baking and sauteing and whatever.
What if I told you, it’s possible (and even EASY) to be in and out of the kitchen in 15 minutes or less EVERY night? With a little bit of easy meal planning, you can feed your family without sweating it. The amazing thing is, with these meal plans and many of the recipes here, you can be in and out of the kitchen in less time than it would take you to drive to the restaurant and get a seat. In fact, it can even be faster than the drive-thru! (Seriously!)
It’s not that I dislike cooking, to be honest. I enjoy it sometimes…but I’m busy, you’re busy, and most of us don’t have the time or energy to whip up a gourmet meal every night. In fact, for some of us, the prospect of trying to cook anything beyond mac and cheese can seem downright challenging. That's why I've come up with a ton of easy meals you can make quickly with ingredients you probably have on hand. (Check out all my 15-minutes meals here!)
Meal planning sets you up for success. You can even plan ahead for the nights you’d really like to go out to eat. Simply write them into your meal plan and then you know you’ve got some wiggle room. By including a few built-in restaurant/fast-food nights, you can let go of the guilt or the feeling that you’re throwing in the towel and blowing your budget.
Instead, meal plan with easy meals and less expensive fast food options (like bringing your own side items) for the nights when you know you’re going to have a tough time making dinner. It’s not about perfection, just simply making progress!
Challenge 5: Worrying About Making Meaningful Holiday Memories
Birthdays, Christmas, even Easter…they’re all about candy, food, and fun, right? Well, mostly, we think of presents and gift giving…which can wreak havoc on your budget. So what can you give for holidays and special occasions and how can you make that gift stand out and be meaningful?
It turns out the most meaningful gifts are often NOT the most expensive. I love giving photo gifts because they’re not costly, but they’re always so meaningful and touching for those who receive them.
The other awesome on-the-cheap gift solution we’ve come up with in our family? Giving gift baskets! To give you a little history: when we were starting out with our budgeting a few years ago, we talked to our family about how we could give gifts but not wreck everyone’s budget or add stress to the season. My extended family was really open to the idea, so we implemented a $10 limit on gifts. Sounds crazy, right? Well, with that budget in mind, it became a fun challenge. We put together some really fun gift baskets filled with treats, homemade goodies, and DIY items. We even created “theme” baskets (like “car care” that included a trashcan, tissues, chapstick, and other go-to items you need on the road). It turned out to be a huge hit and we’ve repeated the challenge each year.
I also love giving homemade coupons. They're basically certificates that the recipient can redeem for a fun experience rather than a gift. These are great for Valentine’s Day or for kids to give to parents and grandparents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Pair a certificate for some quality time together, a homemade frame with a memorable photo, and some favorite yummy treats and you have a gift that’s more meaningful than anything from the store!
Challenge 6: Facing Expensive Emergencies
Your emergency fund should be a crucial component of your budget. In fact, before you start to tackle debt or save for something fun, you should save enough to get your emergency fund in place. Think of it like an insurance policy. No matter what happens, you’re covered because you've tucked away $1000-$2000 to address and cover anything unexpected.
Many people keep a credit card “for emergencies.” If you do this, I want you to seriously consider cutting it up, throwing it out, or otherwise getting rid of it. If you want to get on a budget and start making headway, and if you’re serious about getting your finances under control, you HAVE TO STOP taking on more debt.
Look at it this way: emergencies happen. It’s not a question of if, but a question of when. A situation is eventually going to come up when you’re going to need money…fast. If you have your emergency fund in place, you’ll be able to rest easier because the money is there.
What happens if an emergency comes up and you don’t have your emergency fund in place? What do you do if you need money NOW?
Well, first assess: is this truly an emergency? Some examples of “not an emergency” are: vacation, concert, bachelorette party…Basically, if you’re questioning if it’s an “emergency,” chances are it might not be. If you really aren’t sure, email me, and I’ll be happy to tell you. 🙂
If it really IS an emergency, keep calm. There are steps you can take. Ask for a reduction in the cost or a payment plan or find a way to work it into your budget. If you can talk them into a 15 day grace period, you can then start to find quick ways to earn money. Try to mitigate the damage as much as you can and do your best to hold off talking on more debt.
Challenge 7: Keeping Your Eye on the Prize
We all lose sight of our goals sometimes. (Yes, even me.) Sometimes a trip to the store, a binge on ice cream, or finding an awesome sale can make you go, “That’s it! I screwed up! My budget is toast.”
The trick is not to let stumbles become falls. No one is 100% perfect all the time at anything. Even athletes and celebrities and CEOs make mistakes. Everyone has moments where they phone it in or just break from being diligent. It happens.
Successful people know how to get back on track when they mess up…whether it’s goal setting, facing one of these biggest budgeting challenges, or achieving some other goal. Challenges will come along, but rather than using them as an excuse to quit and go back to your unbudgeted ways, use them as opportunities to get stronger.
Look back at a mistake or at a time when you overspent and ask yourself what happened. What were the circumstances and what could you do in the future to help prevent it? Whether it’s preparing a freezer meal in advance, talking to your family about holiday expectations, or asking your spouse to help hold you accountable…what could you have done to keep yourself on track?
Don’t dwell on mistakes or beat yourself up. Look at them as a great chance to learn and move forward. With every mistake, you gain another tool in your budget arsenal and level up your budgeting experience! When these biggest budgeting challenges come along, you'll know how to handle them next time!
Keep your eye on the prize and tackle each challenge that comes your way!